There may be a silver lining to Covid-19, and it’s green

James Moat, CEO, Box Energi | Drive Energi

Covid-19 and climate change are by no means poles apart. In fact, the two crises have striking parallels: both are emergencies that involve invisible forces with tangibly devastating consequences, and each command both urgent attention and concerted, large-scale, and interdisciplinary action.

Recovery from each crisis is not mutually exclusive either. As the UK slumps into its first recession in 11 years, economic recovery packages will shape, if not determine, any prospects of a green future. Proactively greening our response to the pandemic by pursuing strategies and policies that centre decarbonisation and net-zero emissions is not an optional luxury but a present imperative.

While Covid-19 has pressed pause on many aspects of modern-day life, reaping some undeniable environmental benefits – emissions in individual countries throughout lockdown decreased at their peak by an average of 26%, for example – these are only temporary side-effects, and they will disappear just as quickly if policymakers, the energy sector, and end-consumers do not decisively seize upon the opportunity they afford.

This is especially important for the transport sector, and not just because the easing of mobility restrictions will inevitably see emissions rise sharply once more. The pandemic has entailed certain behavioural shifts with significant consequences for the transport industry: fewer flights together with travel restrictions have led holidaymakers to journey by car across the UK; the diminished capacity of public transport has seen routing requests for motor vehicles in August rise 27% from January; and one poll conducted with London commuters, though anecdotal, speaks to a broader trend of anxiety around the safety of public transport which has resulted in more people wanting to commute by car (49%, up 23% from pre-pandemic levels).

These trends in consumer behaviour, though new, confirm an age-old truth: motor travel is not going away anytime soon. But with transport being the largest contributor to UK domestic greenhouse gases (GHG), an ambitious step-change is necessary.

Electric vehicles (EVs) will be an integral part of the transition to making transport a net-zero industry. Yet, while 2019 saw a record number of EVs on UK roads and the sales of hybrids and EVs boomed by 73% this June, barriers to mass adoption inevitably persist. Realising the government’s 2050 net-zero targets will require a holistic approach to delivering an overall experience that encourages consumers to transition to a cleaner mode of transport.

EV infrastructure must take priority so as to anticipate and ultimately cater for growing EV demand. With 50% of existing charge points installed in the last 20 months – compared with the previous five years — and firm commitments from recognisable brands such as McDonalds and Greene King that will alone add thousands more charge points in the next few years, it demonstrates that a tipping point has been reached and this sector is attracting large scale investment.

The acceleration of EV technology has greenlit the viability of the EV industry to spearhead both environmental and economic recovery – especially since it is estimated that 90% of automotive jobs could be directly transferred to an EV context.

The recent findings from Climate Assembly UK suggests that a public proclivity towards green energy solutions – including EVs – already exists. Now that people have been able to experience clean air, burgeoning wildlife and birdsong in lockdown, many have recalibrated their attitude to climate change and the scale of its challenges.

With public sentiment favourable to a green recovery, governmental regulation lending advocacy to EV innovation, and the pandemic highlighting the dysfunctionality of the transport sector’s previous unsustainable “normal”, here and now therefore presents a golden – or rather green – opportunity for the step-change that will be so essential if we are truly to tackle the climate emergency.